3 Crucial Deathbed Lessons You Need to Know Now
It never seems to matter how many years pass since sitting next to Nancy on her last day alive. No matter how many days, weeks or years go by, I remember that day like it just happened. Her chilling words about her regrets and lessons, and the vision of her emaciated body wracked by cancer remain seared in my mind.
What started out as seemingly a simple uterine cyst removal, ended up being a death sentence when the medical procedure used — a process called “morcellation” — spewed cancer cells all over Nancy’s abdomen instead of grinding up the cyst for swift removal. The procedure is all but banned now, but it claimed the lives of hundreds of women over the past decade.
Given the grueling and senseless death of a stunningly beautiful and vibrant woman, I committed to honoring her life, vitality, enthusiasm, and legacy each day and supporting others to do the same. So when I recently came upon the statistic that the death rate of middle-aged white Americans has been rising rather than declining since 1998 and continued to increase, I had to pay attention.
This well documented trend (http://theatln.tc/2ltojJy, http://wapo.st/2ooJVar, https://bloom.bg/2o7q0Kj) has been coined, “Death by Despair.” What a chilling name for people living in arguably the most progressive, wealthy and developed nation in the world.
What researchers have found is that death rates for white Americans with a high school education or below have risen steadily over the past two decades. The erosion of well-paying industrial jobs, an increase in the mobility of families and a decline in church attendance all seem to be playing a role in that segment of Americans facing significant unmooring of social and economic support.
As I watched my friend’s life be cut short and study these social trends, I am reminded of the research by hospice clinician Bronnie Ware on the Top Five Regrets of the Dying. What Bronnie found is that there are very consistent themes that people express when faced with their mortality, and indeed, I heard these from Nancy as she faced her final days on this earth. Learning from these tenets will allow each of us to elevate our experience of life and move beyond the sense of despair that seems to be gripping the hearts of so many Americans.
Here are three themes from Bronnie’s research and my friend Nancy’s last days comments that you can learn from and put into your life starting today:
1. I wish I had pursued what was important to me.
Pursuing what is important to you — spending your precious time engaged in activities that feed your soul — is one of the keys to living a full, productive and meaningful life. But to spend time on what is important, you must first discern what that is! Do you know what you want for your life? What your values are? What you want your legacy to be? Answering these questions and then designing your days to include these activities is one of the keys to leading a meaningful and fulfilling life. How you spend your days is, in fact, how you spend your life. Do you know your values? Are you aligning how you spend time with what you love or with the person you want to be?
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
When it comes down to the end of your life, do you think you will be laying on your deathbed wishing you had finished one more project or landed one more proposal? Probably not. In fact, being busily engaged in activities that have little meaning causes the majority of stress today. Many people in contemporary culture identified deeply with their work and their profession, which is not necessarily a bad thing, except when identification with work becomes one’s sole identity and everything else falls to the wayside. To thrive, you have got to feel a sense of wholeness to your identity — being as fulfilled as a spouse, parent, friend, volunteer, spiritual being and community member as you do as a professional. Working less, yes, even earning less, in service of wholeness, satisfaction, and service to the greater good is a worthy aim. Are you working too hard? Do you put in far too many hours at the office? I work as a professional coach, and nearly 100% of my coaching clients have a goal of spending less time at the office. I hope this is showing a definite trend toward the whole life perspective that we so desperately need.
3. I wish I chose to be happier.
It is an interesting notion to choose to be happier. End of life wisdom tells us that happiness is fundamentally a choice and one that we are far too often not inclined to make. Notice what people talk about at work or your kids’ soccer games — most often it is a litany of tacit complaints. There is too much attention on drama and trauma sharing, and there is such intense focus on what’s NOT working in life rather than on what there is to celebrate and enjoy. Happiness is a fleeting emotion, but joy is a state of being that emanates from the inside out. Where are you focusing on what isn’t working in your life? Are there ways you can be more grateful and happy for what you have and the gifts of your life rather than lamenting about your petty dissatisfactions. Most people across the globe would love to have the “problems” of most Americans. Shift your attention toward the positive and let yourself be happy.
Life is so short. People die every day wishing that they had more time to live. And now too many Americans are dying from despair. Choose each day to fully align with your strengths and your ability to make better choices. Don’t die with despair and regret. Invent yourself as a force of nature, committed to bringing more love, compassion, goodness and service to our world. We need all the good that you can give.